Plainfield East student to perform poetry in Washington D.C.
By Erin Gallagher Correspondent April 26, 2013 10:00PM
Plainfield East senior Rapheal Mathis will represent Illinois Monday, April 29, 2013, at the Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest in Washington, D.C. | Supplied photo
Updated: August 2, 2013 5:07PM
While many teen boys aspire to be pro athletes, how many dream of being professional poets? One Plainfield East senior does, and he is well on his way.
Rapheal Mathis, 18, will represent Illinois on Monday at the Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest in Washington, D.C.
There are 53 state champions competing in the semifinals, with nine advancing to the finals Tuesday. Contestants are judged on stage presence, articulation, connection with the crowd, how well they convey the poem’s message and accuracy, Mathis said.
Students read a poem from each of three categories: pre-20th century, 125 lines or fewer and student’s choice. Mathis selected “Silence” by Thomas Hood, “Buick” by Karl Shapiro and “The Gift” by Li-Young Lee.
“I did (Shapiro’s poem) last year and I didn’t get as far,” Mathis said.
He selected “The Gift” because it was sentimental, touching, powerful and passionate, he said. Lee, a highly regarded Chinese poet, recounts a memory of childhood. Mathis believes it conveys a tender side of the poet’s father.
Mathis said he has been writing poetry for five years. To be able to travel and compete doing something he loves is a dream come true.
“Usually, my poetry is very inspirational with a message,” the teen said. “I wrote a poem about drinking and driving and the impact it can have.”
Another poem, written after a visit to Lincoln’s tomb in Springfield, is one of about 50 he has completed. Plainfield East is particularly strong in poetry, he said, which has helped his writing, as well as with this competition.
“Because of Poetry Out Loud, I got a chance to perform for Caroline Kennedy at the Highland Park Public Library,” Mathis said. “That was a very humbling experience — when she first walked in I lost my voice. Just that I met her was really an honor.”
Win or lose Monday, Mathis thinks it’s been amazing to have gone so far in the competition. He is especially grateful for the support of his school and classmates. Poetry Out Loud is presented by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation.
The competition webcast can be viewed on www.arts.gov. Mathis will compete between 1 and 4 p.m. in region 2.